How to find a literary agent for your project

In the world of book publishing, literary agents are often referred to as the “gatekeepers”. They’re tasked with seeking out and securing publishers and the best publishing deals for the clients they represent. Since they’re work is commission-based, they aren’t paid until they get the job done. It’s important to note, however, if you’re planning on looking for a literary agent, you have to find one who will represent the specific genre you’ve written in, as not all agents represent all genres. As a matter of fact, if a literary agent tells you that they represent every genre, consider that a red flags and cross them off your list, as that’s a clear indication that they don’t have a specialty – and as such, they likely don’t have the deep understanding and the contacts that are needed for your particular genre. 

With all of the above said, let’s dive in and go over some tips that you can use to point you in the right direction of finding a reliable literary agent. 

Do you really need a literary agent? 

First, it’s important to determine if you really need a literary agent, as it really depends on what you’re trying to sell. If, for example, you’d like to have your book published by a major publishing house – Simon and Shuster, Penguin, HarperCollins, or Random House, for example – then yes, a literary agent would be worth your while, as they’ll be able to help you through the process of publishing your book and make it a bit less daunting 

If, however, you’re book is a niche market (sewing, canning preserves, etc.) or your work is literary or academic in nature, then you may not need the help of a literary agent. The size of the advance they believe they’ll secure serves as the motivation for clients they take on. If your writing is in a really fringe market and the advance is likely to be small, then there’s a good chance that you won’t be taken on by a literary agent, as in their eyes, your project may not be worth their time and effort. 

Tips to find a literary agent

So, if you’ve determined that yes, a literary agent is both someone that you want to work with and that your project will be appeal to one, then let’s dive in and explore some tips that you can use to find one. There are lots of literary agents out there, and the following tips will help to point you in the right direction. 

Do your research

You’re going to want to start the process by doing some research. Look for agents that specialize in your genre, have ample experience, and have a proven track record of success. If, for example, your writing is historical fiction, you’re going to want to find an agent who is well-versed in this market. On the other hand, if you have created a graphic novel, you’ll want to find an agent who has the connections in that arena to guide you to success.

You’ll be spending a lot of time speaking with and getting together with your agent, so make sure that you choose someone who you can count on to not only effectively represent your career and your writing, but who you “jive” with. 

Look at agent listings

There are several websites that feature databases that contain a list of literary agents, as well as community resources that are directed toward assisting new writers locate good representation and experienced authors find new agents. On some sites, you can sort through listings by genre or keyword, such as “historical fiction”, “science fiction”, or “romance”, for example, which will help to narrow down your search and hone-in on an agent that will fit your needs. 

Start the querying process

Once you find a few agents who have piqued your needs, you can start querying. Write up a query letter, which is basically a condensed version of your book proposal; it’s about a page long and highlights all pertinent information, such as who you are, what your book is about, and what demographic you’re targeting. Send out your query letters and see who gets back to you. Speak with the agents who do respond, have a consultation, and then narrow down the options to the literary agent who best meets your needs.